ScotsGay Arts, 11th June 2019

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Ballet Black Pendulum, Click!, Ingoma, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
June 11, 2019

***** (5 stars)

Ballet Black, founded in 2001 by Cassa Pancho to provide role models for young aspiring black and Asian dancers, brought an exciting and inspiring triple bill to the Festival Theatre. All three ballets were special commissions for Ballet Black, who aim to widen the visible landscape of classical ballet: they have certainly achieved that aim – it’s rare to see [in the UK at least] dancers of colour.

Pendulum was danced by Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November to the ‘music’ of Steve Reich – ‘music’ which had no melody or pitch, simply a heartbeat which accelerated in tempo and was later augmented by increasingly intense humming sounds. The two dancers watched each other as they danced alone, occasionally mirroring or joining with the other. They tried to outstare each other, they clung to each other: was it a mating display? A competition? A battle? And suddenly it ended: I was impressed, but unmoved, while the obviously very knowledgeable [and mostly young] audience applauded enthusiastically.

Click! was the reason I wanted to see this company – they had commissioned the work from choreographer Sophie Laplane, whose work Dextera was such a remarkable companion to Elite Syncopations in Scottish Ballet’s recent Spring! I was expecting marvellous things, and I was not disappointed. Five dancers in snappy suits in primary colours danced to an assortment of clicks and clicking music, including the delightful Just the Snap of Your Fingers originally recorded by the Mudlarks. José Alves, Isabela Coracy, Marie Astrid Mence, Cira Robinson and Ebony Thomas’ costumes reminded me of the Mark Morris dance company – but outshone them by far in a way more interesting and varied ballet which was visually entrancing, virtually indescribable, wildly inventive and utterly delightful: definitely my favourite of the three.

Ingoma was intense and deeply moving. Created by Junior Artist Mthuthuzeli November it paid homage to the struggles in the 1940s of South African miners and their families, when 60,000 of them took strike action. Peter Johnson’s score mixed music, prayer and singing with hand-claps and slaps from the dancers: plangent cello laments and intense rhythmic pulsing accompanied the dancers’ joy, love, exuberant delight in physical movement and rage, deep grief and heartbreak. The whole company created the mine in which they worked and from which they emerged to dance. José Alves, Cira Robinson and Marie Astrid Mence’s pas de deux and solos were both technically amazing and painfully expressive, while the ensemble dancers surrounded, comforted, rejoiced and grieved with the soloists. The applause at the end expressed not only our appreciation of the dancers’ technical mastery but also how deeply we were affected by what we had seen.

Ballet Black were new to me: I will make sure I see them when next they come my way, and I urge you to do the same.